Hands-on with Jotun [PAX East]

Hands-on with Jotun [PAX East]

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Before playing, the buzz around Jotun centered around it being a mish-mash of hand drawn art, viking lore and Shadow of the Colossus. I didn’t know if it could be done. I didn’t know if it should be done, but I’d be damned if it wasn’t something that I was going to check out immediately.

What immediately grabbed my attention was Jotun’s main character. Thora is a tough, burly ginger who’s able to just tear through enemies with her giant battle axe. In a time where there’s much discussion of female characters in games — oversexualization and the like — it’s refreshing to see a character in that vein. Having recently died an inglorious death, Thora is on a quest to prove herself to the gods in order to gain entry into Valhalla.

Ultimately, Jotun appears to be an action game that is more about figuring out an enemy’s movements, patterns and tells, then determining how to properly position and strike with deadly precision. These can vary between light and heavy attacks and include rolling out of the way to avoid getting beaten down by titanic behemoths that literally tower over you.

The PAX East demo consisted of a boss fight with a massive ice monster. After enough hits, the monster would collapse to the ground, which opened a window for Thora to swoop in and deal some real damage before the beast got back up. The monster would vary between charging at me, using a ground pound, or blowing a very damaging gust of icy wind. Each attack was preceded with a clear, definite tell so there was space for a slight advantage, which was sorely needed due to being fairly overpowered and overrun.

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I was definitely skeptical, but it really did bring back memories of Shadow of the Colossus. In the games, your size and movement are both a great advantage and disadvantage. Sure, the enemies are big and lumbering, but it takes a lot less effort for them to outmaneuver you. You have to run so much faster and be so much more precise with your attacks to make them count, and I really appreciate that dichotomy here as well.

An interesting twist in combat came when I got the monster’s health down to about half, causing the snowy field where we had been fighting to suddenly transform into a huge sheet of ice. This necessitated even more thought in all my movements as Thora’s momentum would carry through into a slide due to the lack of traction.

The art style is definitely Banner Saga-like, but everything here is hand drawn. From landscapes to character animations, it resembles that Saturday morning cartoon style. It was hard to believe that these were created with a more traditional art method, until I saw some of the placeholder sketches in Thora’s battle animations. It’s fairly impressive in theory, and even more so when seen in motion, something that we’ll hopefully to to experience soon.

Jotun is set for a September 2015 release on PC and is planned for unspecified consoles sometime thereafter.